How to Cook Shrimp to Tender Perfection
Shrimp make their way into all kinds of cuisine because their delicate flavor and tender meat make every recipe seem special. A meal of shrimp and grits feels like a party, shrimp cocktail an elevated appetizer, and shrimp scampi an Italian delicacy. But shrimp are such a fast-cooking ingredient that it's a snap to add them to just about anything. Whether you need to know how to cook frozen shrimp (just thaw it first, more on that below) or you're dealing with how to cook raw shrimp, we'll walk you through how to cook shrimp multiple ways and even show you how to peel and devein it.
How to Peel and Devein Shrimp
Most of us can easily find peeled and deveined shrimp at our grocery stores. But if you can't, or you want to know how to cook shrimp through the entire process, here's how to prepare shrimp by peeling and getting rid of that icky-tasting (really, you don't want to eat this) vein. If you already purchased peeled and deveined shrimp, skip this section and get straight to cooking shrimp, below.
How to Peel Shrimp
Before we can get to cooking, or even deveining, the first step in preparing shrimp is peeling.
- Open the shell lengthwise down the body on its belly side (the inside curve). You can just pinch and pull the shell with your fingers, no tools needed.
- Starting at the head end, peel back the shell. Gently pinch off the tail to remove it or, if you prefer, leave the tail intact for a more upscale presentation.
How to Devein Shrimp
Once you accomplish this step of how to prepare shrimp, the hardest part is over.
- Use a sharp knife ($9, Bed Bath & Beyond) to make a shallow slit next to the dark intestinal vein that runs down the back of the shrimp.
- Using the tip of the knife, locate the vein.
- Place the tip of the knife under the vein and lift it out.
- If necessary, rinse the shrimp under cold running water to eliminate any residue.
Test Kitchen Tip: The vein is actually the intestinal tract and can impart an unpleasant taste if left in the shrimp.
How to Cook Shrimp in the Oven
Part of the reason we love shrimp recipes is that they cook so fast. When it comes to cooking shrimp in the oven, we opt to broil. Many baked shrimp recipes start by first boiling shrimp (or using precooked shrimp) then baking as part of a dish like this Baked Shrimp Curry. But broiling shrimp will cook shrimp faster than baking. Here's how to broil shrimp:
- Adjust the oven rack to 4 to 6 inches from the heat
- Place 1 to 1½ pounds shrimp, seasoned or marinated as desired, in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Broil 2 to 5 minutes (told you it was fast!) until opaque.
How to Cook Shrimp on the Stove
There are a couple of methods for cooking shrimp on the stove; each of them will get your seafood on the table in a flash.
How to Boil Shrimp
- For 1 pound shrimp, in a 3-quart saucepan bring 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling.
- Add shrimp.
- Simmer, uncovered, 1 to 3 minutes or until shrimp turn opaque, stirring occasionally.
- Drain and rinse shrimp in a colander under cold running water. If desired, chill shrimp.
Try boiling shrimp in our Shrimp and Sausage Boil recipe.
How to Cook Shrimp in a Skillet (aka How to Sauté Shrimp)
- Heat skillet over medium-high.
- Add butter or oil.
- Add 8 ounces to 2 pounds seasoned or marinated shrimp to skillet.
- Cook 2 to 6 minutes until shrimp are opaque.
Put your new skills sautéing shrimp to work in this Sautéed Shrimp and Noodles recipe.
How to Grill Shrimp
A skewer of grilled shrimp is one of our favorite summertime cookout treats, not to mention a favorite way to cook shrimp. After peeling and deveining, season or marinate shrimp as desired, then thread onto skewers ($4, Target) leaving a ¼-inch space between each and follow these instructions for grilling shrimp kabobs (note that how long to cook shrimp on the grill depends on their size):
- For direct grilling: Grill shrimp, covered, over medium heat as long as directed below based on their size, or until opaque:
- extra-jumbo shrimp (20 per pound) 5 to 8 minutes
- colossal shrimp (12 to 15 per pound) 7 to 9 minutes
- For indirect grilling: Grill shrimp, covered, over medium as long as directed below based on their size, or until opaque:
- extra-jumbo shrimp (20 per pound) 8 to 10 minutes
- colossal shrimp (12 to 15 per pound) 9 to 11 minutes
Check for the shrimp to change to a pink color on the outside. Cut into a skewered shrimp to make sure the flesh is opaque throughout.
How to Buy Shrimp
There's a little bit of extra know-how needed when shopping for shrimp. Use these pointers when buying shrimp:
- Purchase 1½ pounds raw shrimp for each pound of shelled shrimp you need.
- Generally, 12 ounces raw shrimp in shells equals 8 ounces raw shelled shrimp or 1 cup cooked shelled shrimp.
- The price of shrimp usually depends on the size of the shrimp purchased. The bigger the shrimp, the higher the price, and the fewer per pound.
- Look for firm, juicy shrimp with translucent, moist shells and without black spots (unless you are purchasing black tiger shrimp).
- Be sure the shrimp have a fresh, sealike scent. An ammonia odor indicates spoilage.
- Avoid shrimp with yellowish shells or dry spots, which could indicate freezer burn.
- The number of shrimp per pound increases as their size decreases. For instance, 16/20 shrimp are considered extra-jumbo, meaning there are 16 to 20 shrimp per pound. With medium shrimp, you'll get 41 to 50 shrimp per pound. See our guide to shrimp sizes below so you know the shrimp count per pound.
How to Store Shrimp
As with most seafood and meats, store fresh shrimp in the original packaging or in a covered container in the refrigerator 1 to 3 days. Keep frozen shrimp in the freezer up to 18 months.
How to Thaw Frozen Shrimp
Because shrimp are bought and sold in large quantities, most of the shrimp available in U.S. supermarkets have been previously frozen. Shrimp freeze remarkably well. If the shrimp you purchase are frozen, place them in a sealed container in the refrigerator to thaw overnight. One pound will thaw in 1 to 2 days.
To speed up the thawing process, place shrimp in a resealable plastic bag and immerse in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold, To retain their succulent texture, avoid thawing shrimp in warm water or at room temperature. When you're learning how to cook frozen shrimp, you can follow the same instructions for grilling, boiling, and skillet-cooking, as long as you thaw the shrimp before cooking.
Guide to Shrimp Size
Use this list as a reference for market names and the number of shrimp per pound to better understand shrimp sizing:
- Colossal: Fewer than 15 shrimp per pound
- Extra-Jumbo: 16 to 20 per pound
- Jumbo: 21 to 25 per pound
- Extra-Large: 26 to 30 per pound
- Large: 31 to 35 per pound
- Medium: 41 to 50 per pound
- Small: 51 to 60 per pound
- Extra-Small: 61 to 70 per pound
With all this information in your arsenal, there's no shrimp recipe you can't tackle. Cook up something that seems special for dinner tonight, no one has to know it only took a couple minutes of cooking to get to the table.